AP Language and Composition
28 January 2014
Frederick Douglass In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass effectively portrays the life of a fugitive slave after escaping from the South to New York. The type of torture slavery inflicts upon individuals who are unfortunate enough to have been exploited by this system is indescribable. Douglass depicts this heart wrenching experience with his use of similes and paradoxes.
The similes used by Douglass were selected in order to communicate the confliction between whites, both Northern and Southern, and blacks of the time period. For example, he compares breaking free from slavery to “escap[ing] a den of hungry lions”. This simile demonstrates the true terror and peril that slavery entailed while also drawing a parallel between slave owners and bloodthirsty predators. Southern slave owners cared almost exclusively about increasing their revenue and used slaves such as Douglass to quench their insatiable thirst for money. Also, the simile depicts escaping slavery as the equivalent of escaping a certain death. This shows that slaves felt utterly trapped and it was practically impossible to break away from the retched institution. Later, he refers to “money-loving kidnappers” as “the ferocious beasts of the forest [that] lie in wait for their prey.” These kidnappers, Northerners hoping to sell slaves back to the South for profit, are no better than the slave owners, according to Douglass. Both are wild beasts in his eye, exchanging morality and integrity for capital gain.
Douglass concludes this excerpt with a multitude of paradoxes that demonstrate the unattainable freedom runaway slaves such as the author hoped to obtain. These illustrate not only the many apparent opportunities in the North, but also the bulletproof glass ceiling that must be broken before Douglass and other fugitive slaves can truly be free. For instance, Douglass states “in the midst of plenty, yet suffering the terrible gnawing of hunger, in the midst of houses, yet having no home.” These paradoxical statements are Douglass’ way of depicting the false freedom that the Northern states offered to African Americans. While the Northern states were free states, extreme prejudice was